Many people on religious paths are lousy advertisements for God. I'm sure that if there were some divine psychometric or behavioural screening mechanism in place, many wouldn't be permitted to be card-carrying representatives of their particular faith. A cautionary adage urges: "Don't judge the path by the people on it." In the case of Islam, it's particularly important to avoid doing so. The fact that there are, I understand, more than a billion Muslims around the world, means the chances of bad press for Islam, are pretty good. Example: The deeply ignorant evangelist, Franklin Graham, writing that Islam "is a very evil and wicked religion."
Huge damage has been done and much suffering caused over the centuries in the name of both protestant and Roman Catholic Christianity. Just as it is presently being done, with biblical justification, in the name of 'preserving Judaism,' in the occupied territories of the former Palestine. Please don't even waste your breath on an 'anti-Semitic' side-swipe. I have Jewish ancestry. Also, this is not an attack on any group or path, but rather some observations on the self-proclaimed practitioners of all paths. I believe that perpetuating injustice in the name of religious ideology is truly wicked.
Indigenous peoples around the world have suffered grave disrespect at the hands of social and religious missionaries, bringing 'higher' teachings or values to them. In the process, traditions and cultural activities which closely bonded people, or communities, have been destroyed. Conveniently tailored Christianity was used by the fathers of Apartheid as (yet again) biblical justification for the appalling treatment of black South Africans. Apartheid was, in retrospect, a huge success. The destruction of the extended family system by migratory work patterns, and the now rampant materialism of the new economically empowered black middle class, have put a final nail in the coffin of black South African cultural heritage.
But back to Islam. The tenets of the religion have as much merit as any of the other dualistic religions with a 'book.' Practiced with sincerity and purity of mind, there is no doubt that it can lead to the highest levels of what might be referred to, as God-realisation. The problem is that the crusader-like behaviour of the Western world has succeeded in dangerously politicising the name, if not the spirit, of Islam. Many of its adherents are now bonded together by the notion of, "The enemy of my enemy, is my friend." As a simple example, a couple of hundred, or even thousands, of hand-waving Iraqis, do not a 'conversion' to Americanism make. They've survived for more than a third of a century by adapting to the volatile whims and fancies of Saddam Hussein. They'll do likewise with any other occupying force, however temporary.
Religion is the mechanistic framework of an ideology. Spirituality is its practice. If one clings to the former and isn't a practitioner of the latter, then any religion is little different from a political movement. It can quite legitimately become a survival mechanism for people under duress. To quote the oft-distorted Marxist idiom, "Religion is the opiate of the masses." Not, as one Robben Island tour guide says, the "opium" of the masses. Although, in Afghanistan, that's a distinct possibility.
I believe that the biggest threat today is the lack of mental purity and ethics on the part of many Islamic clerics and their peers in other religions. I was left aghast at some of the video footage from Friday night prayers in Baghdad, Basra and other centres in Iraq, following the American invasion. The hate-speak, from supposedly spiritual leaders, inside 'houses of God' was literally breath-taking. But Christian and Jewish religious leaders have done precisely the same thing over the centuries.
What we need to understand is this: The passive resistance campaigns of Gandhi were based on 'ahimsa,' the principle of non-injury. The work of Martin Luther King Jr. was based on similar principles of non-violence. It's vital for both teachers and followers of Islam around the world, to remind themselves of the true meaning of their religion, which is "Peace."
Nothing of consequence is going to be accomplished by being sucked into using religion as a cloak for politics, power mongering, or even the murder of 'unpopular' clerics, as happened recently in Iraq. Islam deserves better.
It's becoming a tragic stereotype in the West, that the most recognised words from the Islamic vocabulary are Sharia (Law) and Jihad ('Holy' War). As a student and lover of all religions, I'd like to see that change, before it's too late. Only spirituality, as opposed to religiosity, can facilitate this. We all need to remember that anger and hatred are venoms that poison the lives of both dispenser and recipient.
About the Author
Clive is a marketing and communications strategist. He specialises in helping people and organizations make sustainable change. www.imbizo.com